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CHEF MORELLI'S CHICKEN RIGGIES

By Cathi Iannone - The sauce in this dish is a very typical Piedmontese-style, spicy tomato sauce that is made with a Sherry Wine, is laden with roasted red peppers and studded with spicy, hot cherry peppers.

The name “Chicken Riggies” is a Utica, New York, colloquialism and a household name known to everyone in Central New York. And, for those that do not know, Utica is so famous for its Chicken Riggies Rigatoni that we actually have a, much publicized, annual RiggieFest where people (and, restaurants) compete with their own version of the dish, and a winner is crowned every year. For a restaurant, holding that revered title, inevitably translates to a big boom in business.

Over the years, there have come to be several variations on the recipe, and truth be known, I have seen people get into full-blown debates over which restaurant (or person) makes the best “Riggies!” Personally, I am partial to my mother's, who learned from the best,  Utica's own, Chef Joe Morelli.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound of Rigatoni

2 lbs. of chicken breast (cut up into  small chunks)

2 large fire roasted red peppers  ( from the jar and sliced into 1 inch pieces)

Bunch of hot cherry peppers, roughly chopped (7, or so – depending how much heat you want)

1- 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes

Hot cherry peppers

5 cloves of garlic  (save one of the cloves to sauté chicken and peppers)

1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for topping)

1  cup of cooking Sherry wine (cut with  about ½ cup of water)

2+2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (separated- half for sauté, half for sauce)

4 tablespoons of butter (half a stick)

¼ cup of heavy cream

½ teaspoon of dried basil (plus, a few torn  leaves of fresh basil for tossing in with pasta at the end)

½ teaspoon of sea salt

PREPARATION:

In a large pot heat extra-virgin olive on low heat with 4 smashed and chopped garlic cloves. This infuses the garlic into the oil before you add the tomatoes. Be careful that the garlic doesn’t get brown. It will be bitter.  Add the whole tomatoes and Sherry Wine. Simmer for a few minutes.  Add the butter, dried basil and the sea salt.  Allow to simmer on very low heat.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute the chicken in extra-virgin olive oil. When chicken is almost browned, stir in the roasted red peppers, the hot cherry peppers, one minced garlic clove, and sauté for a couple of minute so the flavors marry.  Carefully, mash the whole tomatoes with a potato masher, then add in the Pecorino Romano cheese. (Do not add the cheese earlier, as it will stick to the bottom of the pot a little, and cling to the masher.) Toss the chicken and peppers in with the marinara sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.  Prepare rigatoni al dente and toss the full pound of rigatoni in the pot with the sauce mixture. One pound of rigatoni is perfect for the amount of sauce that is prepared.  Serve with additional grated cheese and red pepper flakes.  Buon Appetito!

Please note:

The original Riggies recipe calls for one stick of butter, but I cut it down and supplemented with a little heavy cream, but you can experiment, if you wish. Also, some variation that I like instead of chicken are: ¼ pound of crisped prosciutto and chopped calamata olives. Or, prosciutto and peas is really good, too! Just don’t omit the roasted red peppers, that is what gives it a distinctive taste. Also, when I double this recipe, I like to use one can of crushed tomatoes and one can of whole tomatoes, then crush the whole tomatoes with a potato masher while it’s cooking. I love the chunks of tomato in the finished dish.

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